The Rise and Rise of the St. James’ Ladies Football Club

July 3rd, 2016 | by stjamesgaa
The Rise and Rise of the St. James’ Ladies Football Club
Club News

Congratulations to the St. James’ Ladies Football team who are now the 3 in-a-row County Junior Champions for 2016. St. James’ Ladies Football Club was founded in 2012 to exploit the great talent of the girls living on the east side of the city. The club was following a great tradition in sports for women. While the Ladies Gaelic Football Association was founded in 1974, women were playing football before this date. There have been a number of claims as to where it all started with one suggestion that it first began in Clare. This was in 1926 when a man named Tom Garry organised a local parish league for women. However, this faded away and it was the 1960/70s before ladies football clubs began appearing. Similar to the foundation of GAA almost a hundred years earlier, the formation of the Ladies Gaelic Football Association was a huge success. It enjoys phenomenal growth throughout the country and its success has extended abroad.

The first Championship Trophy was contested in autumn 1974. The cup was named after Brendan Martin, who began organising ladies football matches during the early 1970s. A total of eight counties took part in the first All-Ireland Championship; Galway, Roscommon, Laois, Offaly, Kerry, Cork, Waterford with Tipperary becoming the winners.

The formation of the St. James’ Ladies Club followed in this great tradition. The club built on the work done by the footballing ladies of Renmore. The idea originated in 2002 when a group of ladies saw the successful underage structure in place for boys playing football in Renmore and Mervue. These women of vision decided to form a team so that girls could also enjoy playing football. A meeting was organised and the first ladies football committee on the east side of the city was formed. These women included Fiona McKinnon, Ann Conlon and Bernie Maloney and they became central figures in this club. Others who joined over the following years included Theresa Lynch, Martina Sheehan, Bernie Connolly, Bernie Lohan and Dolores Stankard. The new club catered for U14 and U16 teams and they were soon playing in local competitions. Oliver Cunningham sponsored a cup and the club began holding an annual blitz which attracted neighbouring clubs. The trophy was renamed the Martin Melvin Cup in 2005 and was the focus of Renmore Ladies football. Anita Donohoe, Jimmy Connolly, Evelyn Kyne, Gemma Lohan and manager Seamus Tierney were at the helm in the later years. They oversaw the league shield victory in 2010 and their contribution has ensured the success of ladies football into the current era.

Renmore had a successful first ten years fielding many strong underage teams and the club produced several county players. However, by 2011, the club was struggling for numbers and the difficult decision was made to disband Renmore Ladies Football Club. It was then decided to approach the high flying St James’ club and see if they were interested in introducing a ladies section. The club was more than enthusiastic about the proposal and thus in 2012 the first ladies team to play in the colours of St. James’ entered the Ladies Gaelic Football Association Championship. David Henry and Michelle Lohan instigated the move and must be credited with the work behind the current day club. Martha Connolly came on board as secretary. It was a very successful venture and attracted girls from around Mervue, Ballybane, Renmore, Ballybrit, Castle Park, Wellpark, Roscam and Doughiska. Training commenced with a junior team and the numbers kept growing. David Henry, who was manager at that time, guided the ladies to the Junior D county final in 2012 only to lose by a single point. However, the team was promoted to the Junior C championship for 2013. During this season the girls experienced wins over St. Gabriel’s and Kilkerrin-Clonberne, which resulted in a second county final appearance for the eastside squad. Unfortunately the girls were defeated by a strong Ballinasloe side on Saturday 9 November 2013. Nevertheless, it didn’t dampen their spirits, but rather made them more determined to bring the championship to St. James’.

Anne Burke, the current chairperson, signed on as secretary for 2014. Gay O’Brien, who was a management colleague of David Henry with the NUIG ladies team, agreed to manage the squad. He brought with him great skills and knowledge to the Jimmies, as St. James’ are sometimes called. St James’ Ladies went on to capture the Division 4 league and the Junior C Championship in 2014. The Jimmies defeated Kilconly in the Championship and Kilkerrin-Clonberne in the league. The ladies resumed training in February 2015 and this early start was to prove fruitful for the Junior team as the year progressed. Although unbeaten that season, the move up through the divisions was not an easy task, but it was undertaken with relish by Gay O’Brien and David Henry along with a lot of hard work by the players. Victories over Menlough-Skehana and Kilkerrin-Clonberne landed the Jimmies ladies in the league final against St. Mary’s. The positive attitude and determination of St. James’ paved that way to victory with a score-line of 4 – 11 to 1 – 5. Solid victories over Monivea-Abbey and Salthill-Knocknacarra in the Junior B Championship ensured the St. James’ girls a place in the county semi-final against Claregalway. This was a really tough game for them. In fact at one stage they found themselves ten points down. However, they never gave up and kept chipping away at the opposition until eventually they won by 6 points. This huge test of football stood to them when they faced Salthill-Knocknacarra in the Junior B County Final. This was a very close encounter, but the Jimmies ladies edged their way in front and won the game. Captains Áine Conroy and Meabh Kelly were presented with their second piece of silverware of the season to the delight of their team mates, management and supporters.

As 2016 dawned, a sense of urgency descended on the club as the success and growth of previous years had not abated their appetite for silverware. The team suffered an opening league match defeat to Naomh Leitir Mor. Nevertheless, this was a minor setback as one can see from league victories over Caherlistrane, Barna, Mountbellew-Moylough and Tuam-Cortoon that qualified the girls for the final against the powerful Barna side. An injury to captain Aine Conroy early in the league allowed vice-captain Roisin Gibbons to step up to the challenge and lead the girls in this league campaign match. This game was a nip and tuck, full of passion match, and St James’ needed every ounce of their determination to win by 3 points. Three league titles in a row was a remarkable feat in itself, but the Jimmies girls were not finished. They opened their championship drive with a convincing win away to Glinsk.

Some personnel changes on the field were overcome and St James’ powered their way to victory in front of a large side-line of supporters in Renmore. They found themselves up against Mountbellew-Moylough in the semi-final and it proved a very close game. At half-time St. James’ looked to be on top with a lead of four points. However the second half saw Mountbellew-Moylough fight their way back into the game and held the Jimmies to a draw at the final whistle. Extra time saw the Jimmies’ superior fitness pay off with a win by 3 points. The final was played the following week and a last minute venue change was not enough to deter the girls of James as they faced Leitir Mor in Rosmuc. Aine Conroy, Bernie O’Connor and goalkeeper Fiona Kinsella were outstanding on this occasion and the glory went to the eastside girls of Galway city once more. County board chairman, Paul Gannon, called on Sean Conroy, a legend of the host club Na Piarsaigh, to present the Junior A Championship Cup to his daughter Aine. It must have been a proud moment for both of them.

The Junior ladies are destined for intermediate football in 2017. St James’ Ladies Football Club is a product of its time, and the passion and determination of its players, managers and committee members. They have benefited enormously from their supporters. Above all, the club embodies their motto ‘Never Give Up’ and their enduring ability ensures that hard work does make dreams come true. The ladies have certainly proved that they are worthy 3-in-row champions. They are here to stay and who knows where the next part of the club’s journey will take them.

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